The fortress on a group of islands off Helsinki was built in 1748-1772 by Sweden, to which Finland belonged at the time. The fortress served three countries in a row – Sweden, Russia and Finland – as a defensive structure. According to militarynous, Suomenlinna is an important testimony to European fortress architecture.
Suomenlinna Fortress: facts
|Official title:||Suomenlinna Fortress|
|Cultural monument:||Fortress construction with the Hyvä Omatunto bastion, the military academy on Pikku Mustasaari, the historic dry dock on Susisaari, the Ehrensvärd Museum in the former commandant’s house, the former powder magazine; today residence for around 900 people and a »culture mile« with the Nordic Institute for Contemporary Art, with summer theater and artisans; In addition, the residents of Helsinki enjoy weekend and summer retreats with extensive parks and cafes such as the »Viapori«, housed in the former quarter of the Russian merchants|
|Location:||Pikku Mustasaari, Länsi Mustasaari, Susisaari, Kustaanmiekka and Iso Mustasaari, Helsinki|
|Meaning:||particularly interesting testimony to European military architecture of the 18th century.|
Suomenlinna Fortress: History
|1748||Under Swedish rule, construction of the fortress »Sveaborg« begins according to plans by Augustin Ehrensvärds (1710-72)|
|1772||Completion of the fortress|
|1806||about 4600 residents|
|1808||Handover after blockade by Russian associations|
|1809||Finland part of the Russian Empire|
|1854||Deployment of 12,000 soldiers|
|1855||Attack by an Anglo-French fleet|
|1917-19||Finnish independence, civil war and renaming of the fortress to “Suomenlinna”|
|1973||under civil administration|
|1998||Celebrations for the 250th anniversary|
Defiant walls that were never defended
If you get on the ferry in front of the lively market at the port of Helsinki and don’t know what to expect, you can expect one of the greatest surprises that Northern Europe has to offer. The ferry chugs leisurely towards the archipelago, but when you anchor in the bay you don’t see much more than a few seemingly inconspicuous walls. And this is supposed to be the monumental fortress? This is the largest construction project ever undertaken by the Kingdom of Sweden? In the »competition« with the fortress city of Luxembourg, another »Gibraltar of the North«, the most important example of fortress architecture in Europe in the 18th century?
The fortress, which had to be joined together to form a closed defensive system over decades of construction, is spread over a few small islands: a granite wall almost eight kilometers long that surrounded a city that was astonishingly large for the time. For a long time Helsinki was smaller than the Swedish fortress, in whose barracks, craftsmen’s cottages and officers’ quarters more than 3,000 people constantly lived. In order to allow today’s Suomenlinna to arise at all, several thousand soldiers had to be deployed to work on this bulwark, who – crammed closely together – lived in temporary accommodation. Tons of gunpowder were used to anchor the foundation walls firmly in the granite rock.
After the Great Northern War in the first two decades of the 18th century, the Swedes had to admit that they were responsible for their own defeat due to poor logistics. The strategists’ analysis: For the shallow archipelago waters of the eastern Baltic Sea, Sweden needs a fleet of manoeuvrable warships with shallow drafts as well as efficient shipyards for maintenance and repairs. That is why the islands in front of the small port town of Helsingfors were transformed into a fortress labyrinth with a shipyard, the core of »Sveaborg«: suitable for building new ships, for maintaining them and for repairing them.
Augustin Ehrensvärd, from King Gustav III. Commissioned with the construction of this sea fortress, was an educated and well-traveled man. He brought officers with him from Sweden, ship craftsmen from Holland, fortress builders from France, armourers from Westphalia. But even they could not help Sweden to victory at first: When the archipelago was first deployed under the command of the son of the fortress builder, Admiral Carl August Ehrensvärd, the Russian armed forces were superior to the Swedish Armada in 1789. Years later Sweden’s dream of great power ended with the Russian invasion of Finland. After the fortress had been bombarded for five days, the fortress commander Cronstedt surrendered after six dead and 32 wounded. So Tsar Alexander I was able to take over an intact fortress, which was soon modernized. During the Crimean War in the middle of the 19th century, Viaborg, as the fortress was now called, was under fire from the Anglo-French fleet for hours. Meanwhile, the residents of Helsinki stood curiously at the harbor quays and watched the gruesome spectacle from a safe distance.
After the revolutionary upheavals in Russia, Finland gained its independence. Only after the Finnish socialists had been driven out of Helsinki by the “white army” under the command of Field Marshal Carl Gustaf Freiherr von Mannerheim did the Russian garrison withdraw without a fight. The flag with the blue cross then waved in the wind high above the strong walls – the “Finnish Castle” was born: Suomenlinna. The legacy of this fortress to the world is much more than just rocks, stones, casemates and cannons protected against rust, because in the course of the reorganization of the stone history a “cultural fortress” was created against old thinking.